Fun at the Festival: a mini-report of the 2018 Festival of Genomics in London

Graffiti wall at the Festival of Genomics

Graffiti wall at the Festival of Genomics

Last week I once again attended the excellent Festival of Genomics conference in London. As before, I was attending in order to produce some coverage for The Institute of Cancer Research (where I work).

I really enjoy the mixture of talks at this conference which always has a strong leaning towards medicine in general and the rapid integration of genomics in the NHS in particular. This was a topic I explored in more detail in a blog post last year for the ICR.

I like how the conference organisers, Front Line Genomics, make an effort to ensure the conference is fun and engaging. It is easy to dismiss things like a 'grafitti walls' and 'recharge stations' (where you can power up your mobile phone and get a massage) as gimmicks, but I think they add to a feeling that this is a modern and vibrant conference.

NHS meets NGS

Opening the conference was a presentation from Sir Malcolm Grant, the Chairman of NHS England. He presented an update on Genomics England's 100,000 Genomes Project.

Sir Malcolm noted that consent is such an important part of this project as participants are consenting to provide information that may affect others, e.g. their children and heirs. He stressed the importance of ensuring public trust and support as the project moves forwards.

Although initial progress towards achieving those 100,000 genomes may have been slower than some would have liked, work has been accelerating. The project has taken almost five years to reach the halfway point but is now on course to reach the 100K milestone within the next 12 months.

The following day saw Genomics England's Chairman, Sir John Chisholm, take to the stage for a chat with Carl Smith (Managing Editor of Front Line Genomics). He stressed that people should think of the 100,000 genomes project as a "pilot for the main game", i.e. the routine sequencing of patients within the NHS.

Rigged for silent running

The conference has four 'stages' but as the whole area at the ExCel Area is just one big open space, they make use of wireless headphones to have conference areas which are effectively silent to people walking past.

In addition to headphones being left on each seat, there are also many additional headsets that can be given out to people who are just standing by the sides of the 'stages' to more casually listen in to each session.

When genomics meets radiotherapy

This year the ICR was honoured with our own conference session in which four early-career researchers talked about how they used genomics data in their own areas of cancer research.

I have writen a Science Talk blog post for the ICR that focuses on a presentation at the conference by Dr James Campbell, who is a Lead Bioinformatican at the ICR. He is using genome data from almost 2,000 patients that have undergone radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, in order to develop a model which predicts how well a new patient — given their particular set of genotypes and clinical factors — will respond to radiotherapy.

You can read the blog post here:

When genes beat cheese

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 20.54.48.png

Google Trends is an amazing tool that can shed light on important historical trends relating to politics, religion, and society as a whole. It can also be used to see whether 'genes' has ever been a more popular search term than 'cheese'.

Looking across the whole corpus of Google Trends data (2004–present) it reveals — in the UK at least — that 'genes' came tantalisingly close to overtaking 'cheese' in popularity in 2007:

But wait! If we zoom in to that early part of 2007 we see that for a glorious week at the start of February that 'genes' was indeed a more popular search term than 'cheese'!

British genes for British people?

This historic victory for genetics seems to be a British phenomenon. Running the same search in other countries, or using the 'worldwide' dataset, doesn't reveal the same pattern. Here is what the genes vs cheese fight looks like in America:

Why?

I have described an important historic event but I am at a loss to explain why this trend emerged. The trend starts on January 30th 2007…I have searched Google for genes-related news around this time but nothing notable crops up. Any ideas?